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Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer ruffled some feathers among his own party recently when he said passing Obamacare was the wrong thing to do.
In remarks at the National Press Club Nov. 25, Schumer, of New York, said it wasn’t politically prudent for the Democrats in Congress to focus their energy on health care. The vast majority of voters who brought President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats into office in 2008, Schumer said, wanted policy that addressed the recession, not health insurance.
In fact, he said, uninsured voters -- those who would get many of the law’s immediate benefits -- were a relatively insignificant portion of the electorate.
"The Affordable Care Act was aimed at the 36 million Americans who were not covered," Schumer said. "It's been reported that only a third of the uninsured are even registered to vote. In 2010, only about 40 percent of those registered voted. So even if the uninsured kept with the rate, which they likely didn't, you would still only be talking about 5 percent of the electorate."
There’s a lot packed into that quote, but we’re most interested in the last part of Schumer’s claim: that uninsured voters only made up 5 percent of the electorate in 2010, the year Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
We asked Schumer’s office where they got that stat. They laid out for us their calculations, using figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Election Project, a website run by a University of Florida professor that tracks election data.
Well, we crunched the numbers ourselves, and our results lined up with Schumer’s.
Here’s how we got those figures. In 2010, about 42.6 million people of voting age were uninsured, according to the Census. Of those 42.6 million, we estimated that 14.6 percent -- or 6.2 million -- are illegal immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute, meaning they are not eligible voters.
This brings us down to about 36.4 million eligible voters who do not have health insurance.
We should note that this figure does not account for people who are ineligible to vote for other reasons, such as a felony conviction. Additionally, Schumer’s office came up with a slightly lower count than we did.
The next step is to find out how many of these 36.4 million uninsured eligible voters actually voted in 2010. That year, 41.8 percent of the voting-eligible population in the United States voted in the general election. Schumer said in his National Press Club remarks that he assumed that voter turnout among the uninsured reflected overall voter turnout. And 41.8 percent of the 36.5 million uninsured eligible voters is 15.2 million.
Then we calculated what percentage of the total electorate (217.6 million) are these 15.2 million uninsured eligible voters -- 7 percent, compared to Schumer’s 5 percent figure.
In any case, both Schumer’s and our calculations potentially overestimate the number of uninsured people who voted in the 2010 general election.
That’s because the uninsured population is less likely to vote than the insured population. An October 2014 Pew Research Center study found that of all "likely voters," 93 percent have insurance coverage, and only 7 percent do not have coverage. (Compare this to the general population, of which 13.4 percent is uninsured, as of October 2014.)
"I believe (the Pew figures support Schumer’s) point on the more limited potential impact of the uninsured vote on this election," said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University.
Additionally, the uninsured population has a lower level of voter registration than the insured, according to a 2012 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The poll found that 64 percent of uninsured people are registered to vote, compared to 86 percent of insured people.
Schumer said that in 2010, uninsured voters made up 5 percent of the electorate.
We crunched the numbers and came up with a figure close to Schumer’s -- 7 percent. There’s reason to believe, though, that 5 percent and 7 percent are both overestimates. This only reinforces Schumer’s overall point that the uninsured don’t make up a significant portion of actual voters.
We rate Schumer’s claim True.
C-SPAN, Senator Schumer on 2014 Midterm Elections, Nov. 25, 2014
CQ, Sen. Schumer Delivers Remarks at the National Press Club -- transcript, Nov. 25, 2014
Election Project, 2010 November General Election Turnout Rates, Feb. 4, 2012
U.S. Census, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010," September 2011
Gallup, "In U.S., Uninsured Rate Holds at 13.4%" Oct. 8, 2014
Pew, "The Party of Nonvoters," Oct. 31, 2014
Migration Policy Institute, "Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States," March 21, 2012
Washington Post, "Could Obamacare add more Democrats to the voter rolls? Yup," Sept. 26, 2013
Washington Post, "Health insurance extension not guaranteed to bring new votes to Democrats," March 25, 2010
Phone and email interviews, Schumer spokesman Matt House, Dec. 3, 2014
Email interview, Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, Dec. 3, 2014
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